Zero is extremely concerned when we are facing an artificialisation of rural space for the installation of equipment for energy production,” Nuno Forner, of Zero, told Lusa news agency.

The project of this solar photovoltaic plant, that the company Cercal Power, S.A intends to develop in Cercal do Alentejo, foresees an overall investment of €164.2 million and the respective Environmental Impact Study (EIA) was in public consultation until 10 May.

The initiative, which is raising criticism from residents, including petitions, has resulted from the merger of five smaller plants, “with production licenses already attributed” by the Directorate General of Energy and Geology, and the construction of a Very High Voltage Line (LMAT).

The panels are planned to be installed in an area of 137.05 hectares, where 553,722 photovoltaic modules will be mounted, with a total injection power of 223.6 MVA (megavolt-ampere) to produce an average of 596,206 megawatts (Mwh)/year, according to the non-technical summary of the EIA, consulted by Lusa.

For the Zero leader, Cercal Power’s investment in “areas that are currently used for agriculture and a small percentage for forestry production” has an impact on “some species with a high conservation status”, such as “the kite and Bonelli’s eagle”, he warned.

These are species that “are very dependent on these agricultural areas for their food and, in some cases, for their reproduction”, stressed the environmentalist, who also criticised the construction of an LMAT “of over 20 kilometres” for “crossing areas where forest areas predominate”, which will mean “significant felling” of eucalyptus, cork oak and pine trees.

Against the installation of the plant, about a kilometre from the village of Cercal do Alentejo, a public petition was launched on the Internet, by local residents, farmers and tourism entrepreneurs, which by 5pm on 28 June, when consulted by Lusa, had 784 signatures.

The signatories of the petition, which reads “No to the photovoltaic plant of Cercal do Alentejo” and which is also circulating on paper, are against the “intensive monoculture of solar panels” and criticizes the Portuguese Environment Agency (APA) for allegedly holding a clarification session “just two days before the end of the deadline” for public consultation.

“The proliferation of solar power plants is the new phenomenon on the Alentejo coast, after the intensive berry, olive and almond greenhouses. Plans for mega solar power plants around small villages and towns with a tenth of this area have to be reviewed,” the document reads.

Contacted by Lusa, the Mayor of Santiago do Cacém, Álvaro Beijinha, said he was following “calmly” the process, managed by APA, and noted that the licensing application “has not yet entered the chamber” to “assess the proposal” and “understand whether or not it can be approved under the Municipal Master Plan.

“That moment has not yet arrived and we do not even know if the project will be approved by the APA, so I appeal for people’s serenity, because it is not a given that there will be a photovoltaic plant,” he reassured.

But if the APA gives the “green light” for the project to go ahead, “I’m sure it will do so with many conditions, such as the distance from the town of Cercal, from homes, tourism and businesses,” the mayor said.

The municipality, as part of the EIA, presented an opinion in which it raised “a number of reservations,” such as “proximity” to the town and “the felling of holm and cork oaks.

In the document, the council also warned of the need to “create tree curtains” to “minimise the environmental impact”, the mayor said, criticising those who are “trying to create noise” around this issue and “putting a bad label on Santiago do Cacém”.